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2 Jun, 2012

India Mulling Mandalay-Imphal Bus Service To Boost Travel to Myanmar


In an address to business leaders and academics in Myanmar on May 29, 2012, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said India is considering the launch of a bus service from Mandalay to Imphal, capital of the Northeast Indian state of Manipur. He also met with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and announced that she had been invited to deliver the prestigious Nehru Memorial Lecture, which she had accepted.

Following is the text of Dr. Singh’s address to the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Myanmar Development Resource Institute.

I bring with me good wishes and greetings from the people of India to the people of Myanmar.

I have come after spending two days in the impressive and beautiful capital city of Naypyitaw. I am very happy with the discussions I have had with the leaders of Myanmar. President Thein Sein’s visit to India last year heralded a new era of cooperation between our two countries. I found him to be a man of courage, vision and sincerity. The leadership of Myanmar has a great desire to expand and strengthen the traditionally friendly relations between our two countries. This is a sentiment we fully reciprocate from the Indian side.

India and Myanmar share age old cultural and civilizational ties. Merchants, monks and maritime traders carried influences and traditions from one to the other. The large Indian origin community in Myanmar is an enduring bridge of friendship and cultural exchange between our peoples.

Our common Buddhist heritage is an even stronger spiritual bond among our peoples. This year marks the 2600th anniversary of the holy Shwedagon Pagoda. I will offer prayers there later this evening. We will make an offering of a 16 feet replica of the Sarnath Buddha on behalf of the people of India. We are also working with local authorities to help organize an international conference on Buddhist heritage in Myanmar later this year.

During our independence movements, our leaders shared ideas and thoughts on the freedom struggle. Mahatma Gandhi visited Myanmar a number of times and wrote in his autobiography how impressed he was by the freedom and energy of Myanmar women. Great leaders of India like Lokmanya Tilak and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose were held for long periods in jails in Myanmar. The Indian National Army received a lot of support from the people of Myanmar.

Our first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, respected and admired General Aung San and pledged India’s full support to Myanmar’s freedom. In the early years following independence, India and Myanmar were deeply sympathetic and supportive of each other.

Today, we again have an opportunity to work as equal partners to revive the ancient links between our two countries and rediscover the immense possibilities of cooperation that exist between our two Countries.

We need to work with each other and with other countries of our region to build prosperity, promote openness of thought and facilitate trade and movement of goods, people and ideas.

Myanmar is a critical partner in India’s “Look East” policy and is perfectly situated to play the role of an economic bridge between India and China and between South and South-East Asia.

We should work together to create a regional economy that can become a hub for trade, investment and communication in the region.

Better communication is the best way of promoting economic integration and there is much we can do to revive and build arteries of communication.

Our two Governments have agreed to cooperate in a number of road building projects. I hope that the very symbolic Trilateral Highway that will connect India, Myanmar and Thailand can be fully built by 2016.

India is implementing the Kaladan multimodal transport project that involves upgrading the Sittwe port and constructing a highway to connect the town of Paletwa in Chin state to the Indian border in Mizoram state. This flagship project will revitalize the economy of the area and link it with important commercial and shipping arteries. We hope to complete it by 2015.

Initiatives like BIMSTEC and Mekong Ganga Cooperation provide a platform for enhanced regional cooperation and connectivity.

Our two countries have also agreed to cooperate in the development of the border regions that link us.

The Government of Myanmar has invited us to assist in the development of two areas contiguous to our border, namely the Naga Self Administered Zone of the Sagaing Region and the Chin State. We hope to implement small development projects that have been successful elsewhere.

Yesterday we agreed to set up several border markets, beginning with the one at Pangsau, on the border of Arunachal Pradesh in India and Sagaing in Myanmar. We are working to develop border infrastructure, including the Rhi-Tiddim road that will enable greater cross-border links and trade between Mizoram and Chin state.

These efforts will give a boost to the local economies and provide livelihood opportunities. Trade will expand and be brought within the ambit of the law. These measures will also help curb the activities of insurgent groups and other criminal elements in these areas.

Indian industry is showing increasing interest in Myanmar. In order to exploit the full potential of our economic relationship, we need to facilitate trade and investment. Bilateral banking arrangements need to be established to ease financial transactions. I am glad that United Bank of India is in the process of opening its representative office in Myanmar.

I am confident that we can surpass our total trade target of US$3 billion by the year 2015. But we need to diversify our trade basket. India can import more agricultural produce, coal and other minerals and export heavy industrial items, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and textiles.

To jumpstart commercial transactions, India has offered a US$ 500 million Line of Credit to Myanmar for which an MOU was signed yesterday.

The energy sector is an area of great potential for Cooperation. There is a long historical association between the oil sectors of our two countries going back to the days of Burmah Shell. India’s known oil reserves in its North-East and the adjacent region of north and western Myanmar belong to the same geological terrain. We should upgrade our cooperation to a comprehensive energy partnership, which would include sharing of Indian expertise and capacity-building.

Human resource development is a vital component of our development programmes. I am happy to announce that we have decided to double the number of training slots for Myanmar under our technical assistance programme from 250 to 500 every year. Yesterday we also signed an agreement on the setting up of the Myanmar Institute of Information Technology, which will boost capacity in the ICT sector in Myanmar.

Myanmar is entering a new phase in its nation building. As a close friend and well wisher, we will be happy to see Myanmar join the ranks of the economically dynamic and politically vibrant countries of South-East Asia.

The Government of India is ready to extend a hand of friendship to support Myanmar’s long term development priorities.

With this in mind and looking to the future, we are together identifying new areas of potential cooperation that will reflect our common vision of an expanded and strong multi-faceted partnership.

We could support capacity and institution building in areas relating to public administration. We were privileged to receive a parliamentary delegation from Myanmar led by the Speaker. We should encourage more such exchanges.

We will also expand people to people exchanges. To this end, we are exploring the idea of a Mandalay-Imphal bus service to facilitate travel for tourism, pilgrimage and medical consultation. To this end, we seek to strengthen link with all sections of society.

I am happy that our civil aviation authorities have agreed to enhance direct flights, including by private carriers, and grant fifth freedom rights. We will need a similar initiative to increase shipping links.

We have the responsibility of preserving our common historical heritage and promoting cultural exchanges, particularly among our youth. We are examining the idea of an India-Myanmar Foundation to promote educational, cultural and literary exchanges. I am also glad that the Archaeological Survey of India is restoring the Ananda Temple in Bagan, one of Myanmar’s cultural treasures.

We need to develop cooperation in social sectors like health and education. A beginning has been made through the upgradation projects underway in Yangon Children’s Hospital and Sittwe General Hospital.

The MoU signed between Calcutta and Dagon universities is a welcome development. In the past we have depended on western sources to learn about each other. We should pro-actively encourage direct intellectual exchanges among our civil societies and academia.

Agricultural cooperation is progressing well. We have yesterday signed an agreement for setting up an Advanced Center for Agricultural Research and Education near Naypyidaw. This center of excellence will focus on crops of interest to both countries including rice, pulses and oilseeds and promote overall food security.

We also need to expand our security cooperation that is vital not only to maintain peace along our land borders but also to protect maritime trade which we hope will open up through the sea route between Kolkata and Sittwe.

Enhanced cooperation in regional forums will be to our mutual benefit. We look forward to Myanmar taking leadership of regional groupings as it hosts the BIMSTEC Summit this year and the ASEAN Summit in 2014. We look forward to the honour of welcoming President Thein Sein in India for the India-ASEAN 20th year Commemorative Summit later this year.

This morning, I had the privilege of meeting Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. We in India admire her for her courage, perseverance and sacrifice. She is a patriot and I hope that she will make important contributions to the processes of change and broader reconciliation that are now underway in this beautiful country. She is also an old friend of India. We are delighted that she has agreed to deliver the prestigious Nehru Memorial Lecture. We look forward to receiving her soon in her old home.

The people of India wish the people of Myanmar well as they undertake the tasks of building a representative democracy, reconciliation with all ethnic groups and economic and political reform. The path to democracy must necessarily evolve in the unique historical and political circumstances of Myanmar and be based on the native genius and traditions of its people.

Our experience in India has been that dialogue and peaceful negotiations are the best ways to bring about genuine reconciliation. I commend the efforts of the Government of Myanmar to achieve peaceful settlements with various ethnic groups. They should now embrace the democratic path fully and become active partners in the country’s progress.

The path of economic reform is often contentious and rarely painless. In the process of opening up, special measures need to be taken to help disadvantaged sections of society who are not yet empowered to benefit from the fruits of growth and globalization. The needs of local communities and people displaced by the processes of modernization should be taken on board. We should do nothing that threatens the environment or the delicate ecological balance that has sustained us for millennia.

Finally, the success of a nation depends in the end on the energy, creativity and spirit of adventure and enterprise of its people. It is only meaningful political and economic reform that can give each citizen the right and freedom of opportunity to realize his or her potential and seek a life of dignity and social and economic fulfillment. By empowering each individual citizen, we lay the foundations for building a peaceful, prosperous and confident nation.

In conclusion, I wish to say that I am very satisfied with my visit to Myanmar. I see great potential and promise in relations between our two countries and I look forward to working with the leadership and people of Myanmar to build an enduring partnership of friendship, cooperation and common prosperity between our two Countries.